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Local Engineers Mentor Students in Bridge Competition
June 18, 2012

Structural Engineers from the Williamsburg-based firm, The Structures Group, Inc. (TSG), teamed up for a fourth time with Jamestown High School’s Technology Education Teacher, Tom Nuckols, to engage a class of prospective engineers in a bridge building competition. TSG and Nuckols selected a Model Bridge Competition for the class to follow. The engineering problem presented to the students was to design a model bridge constructed with 1/8” x 1/8” balsa wood members that spanned 14” between supports. The bridge was required to provide a minimum of 3” of clearance below the bottom of the bridge at the center, simulating the need for bridges to avoid restricting water commerce. The bridge was also required to be designed to allow a 2” x 2” x 2” cube to pass through the roadway of the bridge, simulating the clearance needed for highway vehicles.

Jamestown High School Technology Education Teacher, Mr. Tom Nuckols, adds sand weight to a student designed bridge model to test the bridge’s loading capacity and efficiency.

The competition began with a discussion led by TSG’s Director of Structural Engineering, Scott M. Francis, P.E., covering opportunities within the field of civil engineering, of which structural engineering is a subset, and the educational requirements necessary to pursue a career in structural engineering. The discussion concluded with a short course on truss design using standard engineering principles. Students worked in teams of three (3) to design bridges using the West Point Bridge Designer software. Each team generated CADD drawings of their bridge from which fabrication was to be based. Balsa wood bridges were constructed from these CADD drawings using 1/8” x 1/8” balsa wood members and epoxy provided by Mr. Nuckols.

TSG returned with several staff engineers, as well as the company President/Owner, Michael A. Matthews, P.E., to judge the competition on May 24, 2012 and to participate with a bridge that they had designed and constructed following the same rules as the students. A bucket was suspended from each bridge and sand was added slowly up to a maximum of 20 kilograms (44 lbs). Bridge efficiencies were determined by applying a multiplier to the weight held by the bridge divided by the bridge’s weight. The winning student team members were Tyler Daspit, Josh Richardson, and Andrew Landreth whose bridge held the 20 kilogram maximum load and achieved an efficiency of 17.8. In addition to the bridge testing, the students were also required to provide a written report and make an oral presentation to the class. It should be noted that the TSG bridge held the maximum load and achieved an efficiency rating of 26.4.

TSG, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, is licensed to provide professional engineering services in 18 states plus the District of Columbia. Mr. Nuckols is a Virginia Tech graduate and 20 year teaching veteran. He has taught at Jamestown High School for the past five years.

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